First, one of my favorites from the Kings of Comedy. While Cedric’s trying to illustrate some racial difference, he’s really talking about cumulative advantage. It’s funny, too.
And this is Dancing Guy, who according to Buzzfeed has “a PhD in party-making.” I can’t disagree. He dances for a while by himself (to 1:15 in the clip, but there’s a break in the footage indicating that he’s soloing for much longer), when another dude shows up. They rock themselves into Mordor for a while–I LOVE the part at like, 1:25 where the dude does a 45° handstand, and Dancing Guy gives him props like he just landed a quadruple Salchow–when a few more dudes find the burgeoning fiesta relevant to their interests. At 2:00 the ladies show up and then, true to theory, the party gets out of control. People start running to the party, when not a minute before it was pretty much dead, just a solitary crazyperson doing the hippie dance to their heart’s content. And then the party gets too big for its britches and everyone stops dancing.
These videos, friends, are illustrative of three phenomena of the internet and (gasp) real life.
- Things get popular because they are popular (cumulative advantage at work).
- When things get big, they get bad.
- A single concerned citizen can get big things going. This person is usually a nerd.
I’ll leave the latter two to another post. Cumulative advantage is particularly interesting in that it speaks directly to the reasons why some things become popular in a networked society. Studies show that the parametric qualities of a given thing have little to do with the prediction for that thing’s popularity; in fact, it’s almost impossible to look at a given thing and determine that it will or will not be popular with lots of people.
This in mind, I encourage everyone out there to throw up their hands and say, “oh well!” and let the visible currents of our society guide you. While there will be anomalies (Subservient Chickens, Miatas, Razrs, and Walkmen), when it comes to predicting popularity, just run as fast as you can to the party and you’ll do just fine. Get there before it gets lame, do what you can, and then move on.